An e-car can of worms

Six years ago, when the first electric car was launched, coinciding with World Environment Day on June 5, it was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm.

Everybody agreed that there were fewer reasons not to drive around an electric car that was then said to be 12 times more economical than driving a regular car.  A few cars were imported, mostly by organisations.  The hope then was that, by now, Thimphu residents would be seen driving around these environmental friendly cars.  The availability of cheap and abundant electricity raised the hope.

Surprisingly, not many cars hit the road.  The present government’s initiative to transform the country into a hotspot of electric vehicles has hit some speed bumps.  That is even with offering financial incentives, by way of waiving all import duties.

There is more controversy than electric cars in the country today.  The government is being accused of favouring a few people, by letting them import and sell e-cars.  The opposition party, as expected, is the most vocal.  They are calling it a clear case of corruption.  The country’s highest anti corruption body, the ACC, suspects a case of conflict of interest.  There is a whole report on it and those, who are making a living out of e-cars as taxis, have appealed to the Prime Minister for feeling cheated.

A noble initiative, so aptly started by a tiny nation that considers saving the environment as a top priority, is surrounded in controversy, unfortunately.  The government feels that those, who criticise the policy, are against the electric vehicle policy.

They are not.  They can say that some are politicising it and jumping on the bandwagon, there are enough reasons to reflect, not of initiating electric vehicles, but how it conjured up a controversy.  Many remember clearly how the initiative was started.  A Bhutanese was to assemble and manufacture electric cars and export them to India and China.  They know how many cars were assembled and manufactured.

The government signed agreements with two companies, accepted electric cars as gifts, and let two local dealers import them, including second hand electric cars.  That disturbed the hornet’s nest.  We can surmise that nobody is against a noble policy of going electric, although there were some reservations, given our mountainous terrain.

The fear has come true, with e-taxi drivers complaining of poor mileage, and the promised charging stations not in place.  If that is the case, the government has not convinced the people that there is no conflict of interest in signing MoUs with two companies, and letting only two dealers deal with e-cars.  The government need not “throw the gifts at their (giver’s) face.”  They can convince people in a better way.

Bhutan should go electric if it can.  The reasons are as plentiful as the electricity.  Import of fossil fuel is eating into our economy, burning fossil fuel is bad for the environment, and we have a comparatively cheap alternative source of energy.  At this rate, we are not moving ahead.  To be fair to the dealers, they are in a difficult situation.

What can be done is to defuse the situation and move ahead in our endeavour to go electric.  Some are expecting the cabinet ministers to lead by driving e-cars.  Given today’s controversy, that would be promoting NISSAN e-leaf and not electric cars.

One way could be to open the market for everybody interested and consider alternatives like hybrid cars.

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